tv [untitled] August 9, 2010 10:00am-10:30am PST
the road to recovery. today we'll be talking about recovery and the media, addiction and treatment in entertainment and the news. joining us in our panel today are mark weber, director of communications, substance abuse and mental health services administration, u.s. department of health and human services, rockville, maryland; ron tannenbaum, president and co-founder, intherooms.com, fort lauderdale, florida; dr. w. douglas evans, professor and director, public health communication and marketing program, george washington university, washington, dc; sandra de castro buffington, director, hollywood health & society, usc annenberg norman lear center, beverly hills, california. the media obviously influences
how people create their opinions, particularly about addiction and treatment issues in behavior health. and doug, why don't we review what we mean about media today. some time ago, marshall mcluhan said that the medium is the message and that is more true today than ever. media have proliferated and they now permeate our society. we're surrounded by it constantly 24/7 and users increasingly are defining what the media are and what those media mean to the rest of us. and mark, why is it important for the media to really understand addiction, treatment, and behavioral health? i think as doug just said, it's 24/7, people rely on the media to get their information and, as the media reaching out, people are forming opinions, ideas, attitudes about what they think about addiction and mental illness based on what they're seeing
on these tv shows or seeing on the internet or hearing on the radio. so if what they hear is accurate, they'll be forming accurate opinions and able to help themselves or help other people who are dealing with these issues. if they hear inaccurate information, it proliferates stigma, the discrimination, and all the unfortunate circumstances people with addictions or mental illness find themselves in as a result of miscommunication. so sandra, they definitely do play a role in helping people shape their understanding about issues, particularly addiction and behavioral health? they really do that and, as mark said, actually nearly two-thirds of regular viewers of television report learning something new about a disease or how to prevent it from scripted television shows. nearly one-third of those viewers take action on what they learn. so if the information is accurate, we're doing them a service. if it's inaccurate, it's a huge disservice.
we also know that over half, 52 percent of regular viewers, believe that the health content they see on television is accurate. and nearly, let's see, 26 percent of those viewers report television shows among their top three sources of health information. moving on to ron-ron, how are substance use disorders and behavioral health issues portrayed in the media? i think the addiction is portrayed accurately. i don't think the recovery of addiction is portrayed accurately. i think it's always the addiction ready for the other shoe to drop and show all the worst things about addiction and not the assets of recovery. and, of course, doug, we're dealing with so many types of media here. there's television, there is radio, there are movies, which one do you think really is one of the more larger culprits of misrepresenting?
i think that while there is so much talk about social media and social networking in using the internet, television is still the number one used medium. the number of hours of tv time is still the single greatest use of any medium as reported by the pew studies that have been done in recent years. so clearly tv has a disproportionate influence on our perceptions and attitudes about recovery. are you including cable in there as well? absolutely, yes. i mean the cable penetration in this country has reached very high percentages at this point. most americans are getting their tv either through satellite or cable or some similar form of feed. so mark, we've established that accurate depictions help and get people to take actions inaccurate depictions; let's focus a little bit more on inaccurate since ron has mentioned that overwhelmingly we still see some inaccurate depictions.
what does it do for individuals in recovery or what does it do for individuals who need to get into recovery to see inaccurate depictions? well, i think the inaccurate depictions have continued to perpetuate some of the myths around addiction and mental illness. and, in terms of recovery, a key component is making those social connections, seeing people like yourself, how they succeed, what they do to achieve greatness in life. and when inaccurate stories are portrayed, it leaves people maybe a little bit of doubt instead of hope and that's not what's needed at this point and time in their lives. so as opposed to pointing out as much, you know, when there are inaccuracies, what we have done is establish some great working relationships with organizations that work with the media to help portray accurate portrayal,
so that the correct stories are getting out versus perpetuating the myths. but ron, what does it do to you as a person in recovery personally in terms of when you see something that doesn't accurately depict who you are and what you're about? i think it hurts the recovery movement and me personally because people have an image of what an addict is. they really don't have an image what recovery is. they think an addict is still that person living under the bridge or a person pushing that grocery cart in the streets of the city aimlessly and nowhere to go. recovery is an asset. it's not a liability anymore. and i think they really depict the liability part of the addiction. but sandra, it's really difficult, i know, because we do public service announcements and we're forever catching ourselves and we're in the business of presenting
the best possible light on individuals in recovery and on the addiction and treatment field. so in essence, the individuals that are developing programs that are putting stories together do really need to get some kind of insight and expertise, correct? that's such a great point. hollywood health & society works with script writers and producers to get accurate health portrayals into television, film, and new media. so one thing we're doing, going back to the earlier conversation, we're using a transmedia approach, old and new media, so that when we do get an accurate tv health storyline on addiction, we then work with a group like samhsa to develop the script for psa and a dramatic plot point spin and storyline refer viewers to credible sources of information through web links or call-in hotline numbers. and a lot of times, we refer viewers to web sites
where they can actually generate their own content and tell their own stories and have a conversation with other people in similar situations. and often these messages go viral, and then it really takes off around the world. so that's one approach. the hollywood health & society has a partnership with the writers guild of america, west and we work with writers to connect them to experts. so we could take a recovering addict or alcoholic in to meet with the writers. we might take a physician, a clinician, or a researcher and we do a 1-hour briefing. now it's our job or our experts' jobs, or our recovering person's jobs to inspire the writers. they're looking for story ideas and the way we inspire them is through telling real stories of real people and case studies. this is what inspires; then they spin the story. doug, i want to talk to you about what your expertise is
in branding and health branding at that. how do we begin to turn this around? how do we take the whole notion of people's incorrect perceptions about addiction, about people in recovery, and what steps do we need to begin to think about in terms of presenting a positive light? and i mean that in the context of the messaging. i think one of the key things is to think about the competition. you know, any strong brand is based on a keen understanding of what it's competing against, what negative messages, negative stereotypes it's competing against. and so how can we reframe the issue of recovery so that it's an issue about social benefit, about uplifting of the individual, about economic benefit for society? how can we take some of those aspects of recovery and reframe the debate around
how should we treat people in recovery in this society, people who have been addicted and are improving their lives or moving on to a new and better stage of their lives, how can we make that a social benefit and recognize that this is something that we need to invest in and this is something that we as a society can collectively benefit from, not just the person in recovery but all of us can benefit from, what's the group benefit? good. well, when we come back, i want to continue along this vein and really get into how we do that and how people create a framework for doing it. we'll be right back. [music] samhsa has tried to do a lot to encourage the media and the entertainment industry to do the right thing in the way they portray substance use disorders,
the way they portray mental illness, the way they portray people with those issues, and the way they portray people in recovery. we do that by providing awards to people and to the industry for doing it right and we also try to call them, call them meaning, call them out when they do it incorrectly. sometimes it's, i think, done inadvertently, and so educating, i think, is important and we try to do that. when we see a new movie or a new television show or something portraying these issues in an incorrect way, we like to try to get a hold of the producers or a hold of the people who are doing it and let them know that that's not a good way to do it and not acceptable. so both the carrot and stick approach and also trying to work with advocacy communities around the country when they do those things as well in providing data and providing information the best way that we can. one of the things an audience can do is to demand from local media as well as national media and cable an accurate assessment of the situation.
there's a tendency to romanticize the issues because there are times when the media does romanticize the tragic figure and the person who is an alcoholic or the person who is a drug addict can be the quintessential tragic figure. the issue that the media has is how do i describe the life of a person in recovery? i want to describe that life as just as vital, just as active, just as interesting as somebody who has never had an alcohol or drug problem. i don't want to portray a person in recovery as a tragic figure, i want to be able to make it clear that indeed, that here's a person, because that is the notion of recovery, it's not mere abstinence it is embracing wellness and health and the portrayal needs to be one of wellness and health. treat me. treat me with understanding.
treat me. treat me with courtesy. drug and alcohol addiction is an equal opportunity disease. individuals in recovery come from all walks of life and deserve to be treated with respect and admiration for winning one of the hardest battles there is. treat me without judgment. treat me. with humanity. alcohol and drug addiction deserves proper treatment. for drug and alcohol information and treatment referral, call 1(800)662-help. people trapped by drug or alcohol addiction often feel like there's no hope, no way out. but for every lock, there's a key, and, if you have a problem, it's good to know there are real solutions to help you get free. for drug or alcohol treatment referral for you or someone you know, call 1(800)662-help, brought to you by the u.s. department of health and human services. [music]
how i pay it forward is every day i have a recovering family. my wife is in long-term recovery. we have two children, 19 and 17, that we have to role model today, not tell them how to live but show 'em how we lead our lives. they've never seen us pick up a drink or a drug in our life. they think recovery is an asset rather than a liability. i sponsor 17 men in recovery and try to role model who i am to them and now i'm involved with intherooms.com and we have over 80,000 members that i'm grateful to for being on our site and we're growing every day by hundreds of people. and it's not only getting people together, keeping them connected, but we're saving lives every day.
so sandra, how can information about addiction, treatment, and recovery be portrayed in the media? well, there's so many different ways. when we talk with writers at the writers guild of america, west, they tell us that their agenda is to tell compelling stories. so we need to inspire them with real stories of real people, positive stories. for example, last year our sentinel for health award winner was private practice, the abby's alcoholism story. i don't know if you saw that one. but it was a wonderful portrayal of a professional woman. you know, she's an m.d.; she's very well respected in her field. she's an alcoholic and having a problem. and she actually goes into treatment, comes out, goes back to work, and eventually has a relapse. so this episode was about relapse. one thing we know about portrayals of alcoholism and drug addiction in television
comes from our tv monitoring project. we did an analysis of shows...800 shows from...no, it's almost 1,000 shows from 2004 to 2006 and what we found was that 29 percent of these episodes portrayed drug use and 33 percent of them portrayed alcoholism. only 6 percent of those alcoholism storylines actually talked about alcohol abuse or alcohol as a problem. so one thing we know is that people are actually seeing people drinking and taking drugs on screen and not as much discussion about intervention, treatment, and recovery. so it's really important that we inspire writers with stories of recovery. and doug, you know there is some, as ron has said, as mark has mentioned, there is also the other coin where stories really do portray it in a very negative light
and actually encourage that, isn't that true? oh, i think that's definitely true. i think, you know, i think one of the big issues here in terms of how we portray recovery is to, you know, think about consistency of message from the messenger. you know, you can't be both a good cop and a bad cop. i think that we can have good cops and i think sandra gave an example of that kind of an approach. and by good cop, i mean taking a positive approach to trying to change behavior, to try to influence public opinion as opposed to fear appeals, negative messaging, negative portrayals that are using a different kind of strategy. they were trying to basically scare people straight, if you will, or scare them into changing their behavior. i think that those messages have to be developed carefully and they can't necessarily come from the same messenger. so i think we need to keep that in mind.
well, i know, mark, that we worked also with not only hollywood health & society but the entertainment industries council and they just finished having their prism awards to laud the gains made by some of the programs as well. but also eic helps us to, you know, intervene sometimes, to help us to talk to also the producers and the writers about how to positively portray particularly those shows. i know that we've worked with grey's anatomy and brothers & sisters and many others. but there are those shows, however, in cable, there are some shows that i've seen, you know, that really take the addiction to its extreme, almost portraying it and glamorizing it. right and, you know, one of the key things is, you know, we love the media. they're such a powerful tool
in our ability to get out accurate messages and, at the same time, the media is there to entertain and there is a creative process that goes into creating storylines and when a storyline gets off or could potentially be doing more harm than good, one of the great things about the recovery community and the treatment community is they're willing to pick up the phone and say, let's sit down and talk about, you know, what the implications of this show are and how it might be impacting people in recovery and how they feel about themselves and how they interact with society. and, quite frankly, every time that i've seen that happen, the writers, they've been open to the conversation. they may not change the storyline. they definitely don't go back and revise what has happened, but they're open. we set up the conversation and i would say most of the times we've come out with a more productive approach to the storyline in the future. ron, as a person in recovery, do you watch with that eagle eye and do you take action
and would you encourage other people in recovery to do that, as mark has noted? yes. i do watch with an eagle eye. we were just speaking about a storyline where it's always about picking up that next drink or taking that next drug after getting clean or sober in treatment. i rarely if ever see the success story about recovery where that person goes through treatment and comes out, goes to meetings, has a regular family life, struggles but has choices and makes those choices by the use of what we do in recovery by asking people for help and doing the right things and going to a meeting or picking up the phone, and they don't pick up the drink. you don't have to pick up. you can go to a meeting, you can talk with somebody and see how much better your life gets and the success in recovery rather than always that struggle. and how would you exalt other individuals in recovery,
other people in recovery to really get engaged in this dialogue because really what we're talking about here is how do we create a different mindset in society about people in recovery through portraying addiction recovery in a positive light, and i think you've mentioned it, in a realistic light? i think that, you know, it doesn't have to be all pink and rosy. i mean, people can have relapses because people in real life have relapse. but indeed as you have mentioned, you know, brothers & sisters, i have to tell you did, the youngest of the brother and sister cohort had a problem when he came back from service abroad and comes in and he relapse. and they handled it quite well. i think they did win, you know, one of the prism awards because of that. and how would you let people in recovery know
how important it is for them to get engaged and get involved? well, i think it has to be a story of hope and there is life after addiction. how i would get it is, you know, now that i'm sitting here thinking is i'm going to do it on intherooms.com, the mass membership of people in recovery to get involved and to watch these shows and to make comments and to respond to what they see right and to respond to what they see that's inaccurate. writers do listen to audience comments. so if viewers, you know, disagree or are concerned about something and they write to writers and producers, they talk to us all the time about the feedback they get. it is heard. that's really important. the other thing one recovering addict said to us, we had a panel discussion at the writers' guild in january and we brought together experts in recovery, people in recovery, and about 100 writers and one recovering addict said the thing that bugs him the most,
he also happens to be a writer, the thing that bugs him the most is seeing portrayals of aa meetings on television that show these bored depressed people holding styrofoam cups. he said if meetings were that dreary, who would go? he said the meetings i go to are raucous, they're full of dark humor, they're stories of people who are surviving and even thriving. he said, that's why we go to meetings. and he wants that changed. i thought that was really insightful. those are the kinds of things we need and that's why we take recovering addicts into the writers' rooms to meet with them and to tell them how it really is. doug, let's shift gears a little bit. as we know, the internet has many positive and negative ways that it can be used. talk to us a little bit about how the internet has contributed to both a positive and a negative perspective on addiction treatment.
well, one obvious way that the internet has contributed in a positive way is it gives us a place to go to get more information. so if through the psas that are being put out or through programming that's got a positive message around recovery and recovery from addiction, you can then go someplace and you can actually get useful information, actionable information, you can engage, you can interact with a community of people who have similar concerns, similar problems, you can actually be part of a community in a way that you never could before. so that's a huge obvious benefit. the downside is that any opinion on the subject is fair game. any opinion, whether it be pro-substance use, techniques for substance abuse, anything you can think of that could reinforce, not only the behaviors that we're hoping to change but also negative stereotypes about addiction, all of that's out there, too. and, you know, which side is winning that competition,
that's very hard to say and we'll see in the years ahead. well, when we come back, i want to talk more about how media outlets can do better, and we want to help them to do a better job by what you will be seeing here. about how media outlets can do bewe'll be right back. help [music] it's important to be familiar with the proper terminologies surrounding addiction and recovery. one of the terms you want to be familiar with is stigma. stigma is the prejudice and discrimination associated with substance use and mental health disorders. stigma serves as a barrier for individuals
and their family members in regards to seeking and receiving treatment. for more information on this and other recovery jargon, visit the recovery month web sites. when you have a drug or alcohol problem, your whole world stops making sense. you can get help for yourself or a loved one and make sense of life again. for information, treatment referral, and, most importantly, help, call 1(800)662-help, brought to you by the u.s. department of health and human services. [music]
the entertainment industries council was formed 28 years ago and it was formed to bring the power and influence of the entertainment industry to bear on health and social issues. it engages writers, producers, directors, executives all within the entertainment industry, as well as talent in the industry, to basically harness their creative talents and the reach of the entertainment industry to touch the consumer, the general public, or the regular audiences that are watching television, going to movies, and listening to music. all of the photos, you have separated them out and really cleaned them up. yeah. from the picture this meeting and we're going to be using some of those for the publications. so christina is... picture this is a meeting that we convene. it's a very interesting process where we bring representatives from the entertainment industry,